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I captured the Olympics with my Polaroid.  Until the camera freezes.


Only 37.04 seconds. That’s how long it took Erin Jackson of the United States to race towards her gold medal in the women’s 500 meters in speed skating. This is also the time each photographer had to capture their victory.

Much of the Olympics is about speed, sacrifice and emotion. Photographing the Games can sometimes be very demanding too.

No article I had read or the television I had watched could do justice to witnessing the action on the ground. My heart was pounding as the cross-country skiers crashed to the ground at the finish line. A Chinese cross-country skier, Jialin Bayani, unclipped the bindings of exhausted teammate Dinigeer Yilamujiang after a run. A Swedish skier put his hands on the sagging back of JC Schoonmaker from the United States. I was moved to tears by these small gestures. A few minutes later, I filed photos with my fingertips numbed by the cold and the icy wind. Later that night, my lens froze.

The first full Friday of the competition was a big news day. Shaun White had announced that these would be his last Olympic Games.

On White’s third and final run, I was waiting for him to pop up the side of the halfpipe when I heard that dreaded scratching sound. He fell. A few seconds later, he was racing towards the finish, helmet in the air, and like that, the story was written. The career of a sports legend was coming to an end and the halfpipe would have a new master, Ayumu Hirano of Japan, gold medalist.

Shoulder to shoulder with my colleague Chang Lee as White collapsed to the floor and cried, I pulled out my Polaroid SX-70. Although my digital camera allows me to shoot 30 frames per second, I sometimes turn to my Polaroid to slow down and enjoy the unpredictability of its film. I had four images left in my Polaroid, so I waited and took two images.

Athletes are the stars of the Olympics, but behind the scenes thousands of people worked tirelessly to make it happen. One night we walked out of the main press center, dazed by the snow dust that had fallen, and saw a team of workers in orange jackets sweeping snow from the sidewalk with long brooms of dried leaves and sticks. Whenever it snowed, these crews kicked into high gear disinfecting sites and standing in the cold, sweeping driveways and driveways, and shoveling roadways.

I also learned to appreciate all the work behind the scenes at events. Between curling volleys, Mark Callan quietly laid rocks on the ice caps, with his water backpack and hose. The team he is part of spent weeks preparing the site, the National Aquatics Center, using humidifiers to prevent ice caps from disintegrating in Beijing’s dry climate.

Teams of volunteers, buckets in hand or driving a large machine, descended onto the ice between figure skating routines to repair the skating surface.

One evening, as I was running to the media work room at the cross-country site, after taking hundreds of images, I realized that I had barely stopped to breathe all day. I took out my Polaroid camera again and took a picture. When the film came out, I saw the chemicals freezing in the film. The next day, on the halfpipe, the focus of the camera was frozen.

When we’re given just one chance to succeed, when 37.04 seconds may be all we have to capture a moment and when somewhere between anxiety and freezing temperatures we’re moved to tears, walking out a 50-year-old camera that’s slow, a bit faulty, and held together by a few bits of neon orange tape can often be the perfect way to breathe and really enjoy the incredible sight in front of us.

sports Gt

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